A jury has found Prince George’s County police Cpl. Michael Owen not guilty of murder in the deadly shooting of a D.C. man in 2020.
Owen was the first officer the county ever charged with murder in the line of duty, after he shot and killed 43-year-old William Green while the Southeast D.C. resident was handcuffed and sitting in the front seat of Owen’s police cruiser in January of 2020.
It took the jury less than two hours of deliberations Wednesday to deliver the not guilty verdict, which came after hours of closing arguments earlier in the day.
The trial began Nov. 28.
While prosecutors argued the handcuffed Green did not pose a threat to the officer, attorneys for Owen argued throughout the trial that he acted in self-defense. On Monday, Owen took the stand in his own defense, saying that Green quickly became belligerent and combative after being arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of PCP and crashing into several vehicles in the Temple Hills area.
Owen testified that during a struggle over his gun, the weapon went off. That’s when Owen fired six shots to “eliminate the threat,” he said. His testimony in court earlier this week marked the first time since the shooting Owen put his version of what happened on the record.
Defense: Owen feared for his life
During closing arguments Wednesday, defense attorney Thomas Mooney said law enforcement officials often have to make split-second decisions about use of force and that Owen acted in self-defense when he shot Green.
Owen shot Green because the two were involved in a struggle over Owen’s gun, according to Mooney. Earlier in the trial, Mooney said multiple pieces of equipment inside the squad car, including Owen’s police radio, were damaged that night, which was indicative of a violent struggle in the vehicle.
“Nobody deserves to be shot and killed,” Mooney said, before adding the tragedy was the “product of the sequence of events that happened before Owen used his weapon.”
Owen didn’t shoot Green with the intent of killing him, Mooney argued, telling the jury that Owen thought he would die if he didn’t shoot Green.
Prosecution: ‘Green was not a threat’
During Wednesday’s closing arguments, Prince George’s County prosecutors argued Owen did not meet the standard for self-defense.
Attorneys with Prince George’s County State’s Attorney argued Wednesday that Green was in handcuffs, was noncombative and was unarmed when he was shot six times, “blowing his heart out.”
No other witnesses saw signs of a struggle leading up to the shooting, according to prosecutors, and an expert witness testified it would have been very difficult for Green to fight over Owen’s holstered weapon with his hands cuffed behind his back.
According to lab DNA testing cited by the prosecution, Owen was the “majority contributor” to the DNA found on his gun and there were some “minority contributors,” but Green was not proved to be one of them.
A medical witness for the prosecution testified Green had some scrapes on his legs and forehead, but that those injuries were more likely caused by the car crashes that happened before his arrest than a fight with Owen.
Ultimately, prosecutors argued Green posed no imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to Owen, which is necessary to justify self-defense with deadly force.
“Green was not a threat,” prosecutors said.
What prosecutors said after the verdict
Following Wednesday’s not guilty verdict, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said she respects the jury’s decision, but was disappointed in the conclusion.
“We believe that Cpl. Owen committed a crime that night, that he did, in fact, murder William Green,” she said. “However, the burden is on the state, and it’s a very high burden. There were only two people in the vehicle that night that could tell us what happened, and unfortunately one of them is no longer with us.”
A historic settlement
In September of 2020, Prince George’s County officials announced a $20 million settlement with Green’s family. The settlement is among the largest in the U.S. involving someone killed by police, and came just months after the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, which sparked a nationwide push for police reform.
“There is no price that you can put on the life of a son, a father and uncle, a brother — there is no appropriate price tag to accompany a loss like that,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said during a news conference announcing the settlement. “But we believe that the actions taken that night against Mr. Green and ultimately taken against his family warrant this settlement.”
During the trial, Mooney, Owen’s defense attorney, said during the murder trial the narrative told by the county in the years since the shooting “is not true, not informed,” and is false.
“They never got it right,” said Mooney. “They never got this right.”
WTOP’s John Domen, Luke Lukert and Jack Moore contributed to this report.